Jhansi Ki Rani by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan

खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

I grew up in Gwalior and every morning on the way to school we passed by the statue of Rani Lakshmibai, popularly known as Jhansi Ki Rani. Rani Lakshmibai is one of the most remembered leaders of the rebellion of 1957.

On May 10, 1857 the Indian Rebellion started in Meerut forcing the British to focus their attentions to the hotspots of rebellion, leaving Lakshmi Bai, a widow, was left to rule Jhansi alone. During this time, she was able to lead her troops swiftly and efficiently to quell skirmishes breaking out in Jhansi. Through this leadership Lakshmi Bai was able to keep Jhansi relatively calm and peaceful in the midst of the Empire’s unrest.

Up to this point, she had been hesitant to rebel against the British, but her hesitation finally ended when British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi. She rallied her troops around her and fought fiercely. An army of 20,000, headed by the rebel leader Tatya Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi and to take Lakshmi Bai to freedom. However, the British, though numbering only 1,540 were better trained and disciplined than the raw recruits, and these inexperienced soldiers turned and fled shortly after the British began to attack.Three days later the British were able to breach the city walls and capture the city. Lakshmi Bai escaped by jumping from the wall at night with her son and fled from her city, surrounded by her guards, many of them women.

The Rani decamped to Kalpi along with her forces where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The Rani and Tatya Tope moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted the rebel forces. They then occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on the 17th of June 1858, while battling in full warrior regalia against the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in Kotah-ki Serai near the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she died. The British captured Gwalior three days later. In the British report of the battle, General Hugh Rose commented that the Rani, “remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance”, had been “the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders”

Today, a majestic bronze statue showing her charging atop her horse graces Gwalior in a prominent spot.

Her story, if you were to look at the bare facts, is not very encouraging. She lost a battle that was heavily in her favour, ran away from her city as it was being taken and then was killed right after her only victory. But for some reason, her short but powerful attack on the British crown did not die out with her. She has inspired folk tales, songs, poems and continues till date an archetype of the fierce Indian  women who played a crucial role in the independence wars.

She was immortalised for modern India by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s poem, reciting which still gives me goose bumps. It is like the indefatigable spirit of Rani Lakshmibai has possessed the words.

You can find the whole poem here. quoted below are some of my favourite parts.

सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी,
बूढ़े भारत में आई फिर से नयी जवानी थी,
गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी,
दूर फिरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी।
चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में, वह तलवार पुरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

….

लक्ष्मी थी या दुर्गा थी वह स्वयं वीरता की अवतार,
देख मराठे पुलकित होते उसकी तलवारों के वार,
नकली युद्ध-व्यूह की रचना और खेलना खूब शिकार,
सैन्य घेरना, दुर्ग तोड़ना ये थे उसके प्रिय खिलवार।
महाराष्टर-कुल-देवी उसकी भी आराध्य भवानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

हुई वीरता की वैभव के साथ सगाई झाँसी में,
ब्याह हुआ रानी बन आई लक्ष्मीबाई झाँसी में,
राजमहल में बजी बधाई खुशियाँ छाई झाँसी में,
सुभट बुंदेलों की विरुदावलि सी वह आयी झांसी में,
चित्रा ने अर्जुन को पाया, शिव से मिली भवानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

….

रानी गई सिधार चिता अब उसकी दिव्य सवारी थी,
मिला तेज से तेज, तेज की वह सच्ची अधिकारी थी,
अभी उम्र कुल तेइस की थी, मनुज नहीं अवतारी थी,
हमको जीवित करने आयी बन स्वतंत्रता-नारी थी,
दिखा गई पथ, सिखा गई हमको जो सीख सिखानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

जाओ रानी याद रखेंगे ये कृतज्ञ भारतवासी,
यह तेरा बलिदान जगावेगा स्वतंत्रता अविनासी,
होवे चुप इतिहास, लगे सच्चाई को चाहे फाँसी,
हो मदमाती विजय, मिटा दे गोलों से चाहे झाँसी।
तेरा स्मारक तू ही होगी, तू खुद अमिट निशानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।

Here is a translation of the first verse,

The thrones shook and royalties scowled
Old India was re-invigorated with new youth
People realised the value of lost freedom
Everybody was determined to throw the foreigners out
The old sword glistened again in 1857
This story we heard from the mouths of Bundel bards
Like a man she fought, she was the Queen of Jhansi

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the poem by attempting a translation, sorry non-Hindi speaking readers.

Information in this article is adapted from Wikipedia, the awesome Free encyclopaedia

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